Government & Politics

Kansas chemistry instructor arrested by ICE while taking his daughter to school

His family says they couldn’t even tell him goodbye.

Immigration officials arrested Syed Ahmed Jamal in his Lawrence front yard on Jan. 24 while he was taking his daughter to school.

The 7th-grade girl ran into the house to alert her mother and brother, while Jamal, a chemist, was handcuffed and led into a car. When his wife tried to hug him, an agent said she could be charged with interfering in an arrest, said son Taseen Jamal, 14.

Late on Feb. 1, supporters of his dad posted Syed Jamal’s story online. In two days, a campaign had collected more than 10,000 signatures on a petition to stay the deportation of a man who arrived 30 years ago from Bangladesh to study and work in the United States.

Jamal, 55, is thought be detained in a Missouri jail 160 miles from his wife Angela Zaynaub Chowdhury, also from Bangladesh, and their three U.S. citizen children.

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Syed Jamal was arrested Jan. 24 in his front yard. He’s lived in the U.S. for 30 years. Keith Myers

The oldest, Taseen, wrote on Facebook: “My little brother cries every night, my sister can’t focus in school, and I cannot sleep at night...

“If my father is deported, my siblings and I may never get to see him again. He is an older man, and due to the conditions of his home country, he might not be able to survive.”

One of the organizers of the petition, Susan Baker Anderson of Lawrence, called the effort a “humanitarian campaign,” pleading that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, exercise discretion to keep a successful contributor to society from being separated from his family and career.

“There are cases where it’s been granted,” said Anderson, whose son attends gifted programs at the school of one of Jamal’s children. “We’re not just hitting at the wind.”

Jeffrey Y. Bennett, a Kansas City lawyer retained by the Jamal family, said an immigration judge in 2011 put Jamal on “voluntary departure” notice as his visa status had become invalid. He was allowed to stay since then on a supervised basis, which meant reporting to ICE yearly to maintain a work permit.

President Donald Trump’s new immigration policies have since targeted immigrants who were granted supervised stays. According to a Public Radio International story in May, about 2.5 million immigrants fall under this category and almost 80 percent have no criminal record. Jamal’s story is similar to the one of the Detroit father who was deported to Mexico last month after living in the U.S. for 30 years.

Having taken post-graduate courses in molecular, cellular and developmental biology at the University of Kansas, Jamal taught chemistry as an adjunct professor for several area colleges. He was most recently teaching at Park University.

Because of Jamal’s strong work record, lack of criminal history, risks to his safety in Bangladesh and three American-born children who depend on him, ICE has the legal option to stay his removal, Bennett said.

“The problem is that the people who are helping to prosecute him (ICE) are the ones to decide that,” said Bennett.

Jamal arrived in 1987 on a student visa to attend KU, his wife said. He returned briefly to Bangladesh and obtained an H-1B visa to work at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Then he returned to KU to pursue a doctorate degree, trading his H-1B status for another student visa.

He has five siblings living in North America, all college-educated, said brother Syed Hussein Jamal of Arizona. “We’re all U.S. citizens except for him. We’re all in professional careers. He just was in the unfortunate situation of not having his status adjusted.”

Syed Ahmed Jamal’s backers said he likely would face persecution or even death at the hands of gangs back in Bangladesh. While living there, the Jamal family was among the Biharis ethnic minority who supported Pakistan in warfare that led to the independence of Bangladesh.

In a hand-penned letter sent from jail to his lawyer, Jamal wrote: “I will face a grave danger to my life for another important reason. That reason will largely have to do with my beloved profession of teaching and research.... (When) engaged in intellectual discussions, I tend to be outspoken since the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.”

Even if he were allowed to teach in Bangladesh, Jamal would be prohibited from questioning the actions of national leaders, he said.

ICE’s public affairs office in Washington, D.C., confirmed to The Star that Jamal “is currently in ICE custody pending his removal to Bangladesh.” In an e-mail the agency said his arrest came four years after the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Jamal’s appeal of a “removal order.”

Jamal’s family said he is being held in Morgan County, Mo., which is contracted with ICE to keep detainees.

At the Jamals’ home on Friday, Anderson and two Lawrence schoolteachers — Dani Lotton-Barker and Marci Lenschen — came by to help comfort the family. Lenschen said Syed Jamal served on parental advisory boards at his children’s schools and last year made an unsuccessful bid for a vacant seat on the local school board.

“This is a man who stands for everything a school would hope for in a father,” she added.

Taseen wrote on Facebook, “A home is not a home without a father.” He is also concerned about the stress it puts on his mother, who is a living organ donor with one kidney.

Mary Lingwall of Lawrence left this comment on the online petition: “I am shocked and saddened. Syed helped my elderly mother for many years. He took her to do her shopping, carried all her things up for her, took her to the bank, and even put her many medications in her med box. ... Syed is a great man, a very devoted family man, and a valuable part of our community. I wish I knew what other things we can do to help. We have to pull together here. This cannot happen!”

A GoFundMe account was created Friday to help the Jamal family pay for legal expenses while they fight for a stay of removal. On Saturday, Feb. 3, hundreds turned out for two sessions in Lawrence to write letters to Homeland Security in Jamal’s support.

In a Feb. 2 letter to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, attorney Bennett said a temporary stay of removal would allow Jamal to a file a court motion to have his immigration case reopened. “We request at least THREE weeks to prepare and submit this Motion if this request is granted,” Bennett wrote.

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r

Letter-writing sessions

On Saturday, Feb. 3, Syed Jamal’s supporters are inviting others to write letters to Homeland Security at two events in Lawrence. The sessions will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church and from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Lawrence Islamic Center.

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